The show was a huge success and after a sell-out Liverpool season it transferred to London’s West End. After seeing Barbara’s performance in the show, impresario Robert Stigwood, the head of RSO Records, signed her to his label.
Her first hit single, ‘Answer Me’, was released early in 1976 and a guest residency on the BBC’s hugely successful ‘The Two Ronnies’ show later that year brought Barbara into the homes of more than 15 million viewers on Saturday evenings.
‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’, her second hit, followed in 1977 when Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber invited Barbara to sing on the original cast recording of their new musical ‘Evita’.
A move to the CBS record label brought further hit singles including ‘Caravans’ and ‘January, February’ and ‘The Barbara Dickson Album’ in 1980 provided her with her first gold album.
By 1982, regular TV appearances and sold-out tours had cemented her status as one of the UK’s most popular female vocalists. Her ‘All for a Song’ album that year was certified platinum and went on to spend almost a year on the album chart.
A return to the theatre in Willy Russell’s new musical, ‘Blood Brothers,’ in 1983 was to mark Barbara’s debut as a stage actress. As with ‘John Paul George Ringo… and Bert’ nine years previously, the show transferred from Liverpool to London and in the process earned her the ‘Best Actress in a Musical’ award from the Society of West End Theatres.
In 1985 Barbara’s single ‘I Know Him So Well,’ recorded with Elaine Paige and taken from the musical ‘Chess’, was released. It reached Number One in the UK and went on to become a Top Ten hit around the world, eventually selling over 900,000 copies. Further hits followed, but in the early 1990’s Barbara began to move away from pop and back towards her roots in folk and acoustic music.
Her 1992 collection of Bob Dylan songs, ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right,’ was followed by the albums ‘Parcel of Rogues’ and ‘Dark End of the Street’, which combined traditional music with tracks by some of Barbara’s favourite songwriters, including Randy Newman, Sandy Denny and Jackson Browne.
The ‘90’s also saw Barbara beginning to diversify more into acting, with major roles on TV including ‘Taggart’, Kay Mellor’s ‘Band of Gold’ and ‘The Missing Postman’. On stage, ‘The Seven Ages of Woman’ won Barbara the 1997 Liverpool Echo ‘Best Actress in Theatre’ Award and in 2000 she won her second Olivier award for her role as the infamous 1960’s pools winner, Viv Nicholson, in the musical ‘Spend Spend Spend’.
She was awarded an OBE from Her Majesty the Queen in 2002 for Services to Music and Drama.
In 2004 Barbara released her first studio album for nine years, ‘Full Circle’, produced and arranged by Troy Donockley. It was widely acclaimed as a long-awaited return to her musical roots, with the Daily Telegraph noting: “it is no exaggeration to describe Barbara as a great singer. She stood out a mile among the Scottish folk singers of her generation, and she has consistently shown her class when performing for a wider public. This is Dickson at her most engaging.”
Having established a successful working partnership with Troy Donockley, Barbara has gone on to record several albums with him in recent years, further exploring the music of the British Isles which she loves as well as selections from her ‘shirt box’ that she has always wanted to record. Their 2013 tribute to Gerry Rafferty, ‘To Each and Everyone,’ saw a return to the album charts with ‘Folk Words’ echoing the views of many in its review: “if you ever mourned this lady departing the folk world for wider musical shores then this is what you’ve been waiting for all these years… glorious.”
Barbara was bestowed with a lifetime achievement ‘Tartan Clef’ award by Nordoff-Robbins Scotland in 2012 and in 2016 was honoured to receive the Variety Club of Scotland Outstanding Scottish Achievement award.
Her autobiography, ‘A Shirt Box Full of Songs,’ was published in paperback in 2017. She has presented several radio series for BBC Radio Scotland in recent years exploring folk and roots music, and has performed at and co-presented the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
She continues to tour the UK with her full band as well as playing more intimate acoustic shows and festivals alongside her long-time keyboard player, Nick Holland with whom she has also undertaken several tours of Ireland in recent years.
An appearance at the Big Stone Celtic festival in Virginia in 2014 led to an invitation to return to play for American audiences two year later, and Barbara is set to travel there again in 2018, a departure she very much looks forward to. ‘It’s very challenging to play alone,’ she says, ‘but it’s how I started out all those years ago. It’s lovely to play to people who perhaps have never heard me and it really pushes me to give my very best.’
She is currently working on a new studio album, a follow-up her recent live album, ‘In Good Company,’ which will feature some of her favourite songs recorded with a string quartet featuring new arrangements by John O'Hara, and she is also planning another release which she hopes will coincide with her next full band tour in early 2019.
Following her move back to Scotland, Barbara now lives in Edinburgh with her husband, Oliver, and a floating population of three sons, Colm, Gabriel and Archie. She is an Ambassador for Alzheimer's awareness at Nordoff-Robbins Scotland and Patron of both Fife Headway and the Fife Society for the Blind.
Whilst Barbara remains modest about her many achievements, with seventeen Platinum and Gold albums to her name she remains Scotland’s biggest-selling female singer of all time.
Aly Bain, the great folk musician, has described her as having the best female voice ever to come out of Scotland whilst Billy Connolly says “from the very first time I heard her, her voice just nailed me to the wall. She’s just a one-off.” Barbara is quick to dismiss this politely as pure opinion, but the accolades she has received over the years undoubtedly recognise that she has been touched with a gift that is of great importance to her and, more importantly, to her audience.
“Singing is not,” she says, “about technique but what is in your heart. That is the secret”.
As a multi-million selling recording artist with an equally impressive Olivier Award winning acting career, Barbara Dickson OBE has firmly established herself as one of the most enduring and popular artistes in Britain today.
Born in Dunfermline, Scotland, Barbara’s love of music was evident from an early age – she began studying piano at the age of five and by twelve had also taken up the guitar. She developed an interest in folk music whilst at school which led to floor spots singing at her local folk club. After relocating to Edinburgh, she went on to combine a day job in the Civil Service whilst steadily pursuing her first love, music, in local pubs and clubs. The watershed moment came in 1968 when, after being refused leave from her job for an overseas singing engagement, Barbara resigned, determined to pursue a career for herself in the burgeoning folk scene of the late ‘60’s.
The next few years saw her gradually ‘paying her dues’ on the Scottish and English folk circuit, steadily building a reputation and working with the likes of Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty, Rab Noakes and Archie Fisher. Early folk albums, which she recorded for Trailer and Decca Records, were well received.
Barbara readily admits that she would have been happy to continue her life as a travelling folk musician, but a meeting with an old friend, musician and playwright Willy Russell, in Liverpool in the early 70s was to change the course of her career completely.
Willy offered Barbara the role of the musician/ singer in his 1974 Beatles’ musical ‘John, Paul, George, Ringo… and Bert’, staged at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre. She was on stage throughout the entire performance singing the songs of The Beatles alongside a cast which included Antony Sher, Bernard Hill and Trevor Eve.